Friday, December 28, 2007

Falling for the Bad Boy

With the third book in my Louisiana trilogy, I came across an obstacle I’d never encountered before. The bad boy, Sean Ryan.

The world loves its bad boys. We love our James Deans and 007s not to mention the Jude Laws and George Clooneys of the world. Even Brad Pitt merits the name after that whole Jenn-Angie thing and that unforgettable Troy performance. I have to admit a tug for them myself. So why haven’t I ever written one? There was Todd, the jewel thief from Fox & Hound, but his charm and protective instincts balanced the scales and he didn’t turn out so bad after all. There was Alex in Love on the Piazza, but he was the Italian version of Mr. Darcy—just too much pride…and maybe a little shy. Overall, he came across as aloof, not bad. Mark in Denied Origin killed people, but it was to protect his heroine, Valentina, and the dead just happened to be deadly terrorists. I don’t think anyone will be particularly empathetic in their case.

In my notes on a hero in my upcoming continuation of the Fairhope series, there’s tough-guy Robert. But he doesn’t quite fit under the bad boy category. Brock in Heart Roots was a playboy. But his infatuation with stingy Carolyn made him so lovable he’s easily forgiven. In the same story, Brock’s brother Chad had a bad temper. But he doesn’t fit the bad boy bill either. In my unfinished California trilogy, the first hero Beau is an actor who enjoys the fast lane, but he tones it down without complaint to gain Fran’s trust. In the second book, Kevin lived dangerously once upon a time but gave it up after his mother’s death and became so admirable no one can fault him.

I come to the end of the Louisiana trilogy in which I follow Elisabeth’s obsession with wild Sean Ryan, and I realize I have a problem. How do you take a bad boy and make him likable? How do you assure the reader he’s not taking advantage the heroine? This was especially a problem when I’d planned not to tell the story from Sean’s point of view until the very end. As I plotted, I knew I couldn’t do this. Not only would it make him look callous and insensitive, it’d make Elisabeth look blind and—the one thing every romance writer should avoid like the plague when it comes to the female lead—“too stupid to live.”

The trick I’ve heard about writing well-liked protagonists is to love them. This is my favorite rule. Sean made a young appearance in the previous Louisiana book. I enjoyed writing his mischievous twelve-year-old self. As I did his adult character sketch, I realized I’d come to adore this bad boy. Could I transfer that into the actual writing while he abandoned Elisabeth not once…not twice…but three times! Could I make his sentiments convincing without burnishing that irresistibly wild and rugged image?

How do I sell this guy as anything but the biggest jerk in the known universe?
I held off beginning the book for weeks. I dreaded it because deep down I knew I'd somehow botch it. Trapped in my imagination, Sean was getting agitated. He demanded to be told—and told right! So I sat down and began his and Elisabeth’s story.

I was stunned when I got to the end of the third chapter and realized I’d been worried for nothing. I hadn’t trusted myself with Sean, but what I didn’t understand until the writing was actually done that trusting him was the way to go about it. Though he does seemingly terrible things, despite the fact that he gives Elisabeth no reason and hurts her time and time again, I know the reader trusts him as I do. Adoration isn’t the only thing that shows through a writer’s words. Trust counts just as much!


Wendi said...

Very nicely said, Amber! I've always shied away from writing bad boys, too. Then I wrote a book with a hero that I set up from the beginning to be unforgiveable. I challenged myself to redeem him (or allow him to redeem himself), and it's probably the best book I've written to date. There's nothing hotter than a bad boy who falls in love! I can't wait to read your Louisiana trilogy. I LOOOVVVE Southern settings. :D

Wendi Darlin

Rita St. Claire said...

Very interesting post, Amber, and good for me to read! I do have to say I shy away from writing bad boys, too. Maybe I'll try one, in a short story or something, so I don't worry about committing a whole book to him when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing.

It sounds like you've got a real handle on it, though. Congrats!